Article by Angira Bharadwaj – The Daily Telegraph
17th October 2022
Stretched and struggling charities at the coalface of Australia’s housing crisis are in desperate need of a $150m helpline to save a wave of newly homeless Australians pushed onto the streets by rising rents, interest rates and cost of living pressures.
Charities say the funding boost is urgently needed to support 30% rise in calls for help as scores of single parents, older women, veterans and working families seek support for the first time.
The Daily Telegraph spoke to charities fighting to help the state’s most vulnerable with volunteers revealing people were struggling to pay for medication, rent and food.
Homelessness NSW chief executive Trina Jones said some charities in regional areas were experiencing a 300% increase in clients.
“Last year over 70,000 people were supported with homelessness – this represented over 30% more than what services are actually funded for,” she said. “Homelessness NSW is asking for an additional $152m per year in funding to help bridge that 30% gap (caused by) rent, food, interest rate combined with stagnant wages.”
The calls for more support reverberate from NSW’s largest charities to the smallest soup kitchens.
St Vincent de Paul Society NSW chief executive Jack de Groot said his organisation had spent $8.3m in the past financial year to help struggling Australians, of which 26% were accessing help for the first time.
“84% of people coming to Vinnies were coming to get food assistance (and) 55% of people coming to Vinnies were experiencing housing stress and spending 30% or more of their income on housing,” he said.
In Penrith, the local community kitchen is already getting calls for help with Christmas. “I never get them this time of year,” Secretary Gai Hawthorn said.
“We do relief hampers and extra food at Christmas, and we usually do 300 and we are really worried how many this year. If the calls are starting early October, that’s really scary.”
Volunteer Pat Kelly said she had seen a significant increase in demand in the eight years she had worked at the community kitchen.
“We so about 40 to 50 meals a day, it’s quite a significant amount,” she said.
Bondi charity Our Big Kitchen provide up to 5000 free meals a week. Operating manager George Karounis said the interest rate hike was creating a new wave of vulnerable Australians.
“We are being approached by families who would never before approach us. This is not going away,” he said. “We’ve addressed a lot of issues in Australia but people sleeping rough has never been addressed correctly be any country on the planet.”
Not-for-profit Canice’s Kitchen community manager Carrie Dean said rent and the rising price of groceries were among the biggest drivers of people coming to their door. The charity is looking to scale up its volunteer numbers in response.
“We are seeing a growing need for people caring for young children to reach out for support because of those rising costs,” she said. “It’s making a lot of people, who weren’t previously at risk of homelessness, face that now.”
A Department of Communities and Justice spokesman said the government was investing $1.2bn this financial year to tackle housing and homelessness.
“From 2011- 2021, the stock of social housing (in NSW) increased by almost 10% and there continues to be considerable investment in new social housing as well as innovative programs to help with rent in the private sector,” he said.